A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Home thoughts from a bored!

rain 15 °C

Sitting here at the kitchen table, the rain drizzling outside and dusk slowly falling. It's a world away from where we've been. It seems so quiet here compared to South East Asia. We've been home since Monday afternoon - that's a full four days - two of which I've spent at work.

When I last wrote we were on Koh Kood Island, a lovely little quiet (and I mean quiet) spot. From there we travelled on to Bangkok and stayed a couple of nights in a nice little hostel just off Sukhumvit. It was called Suk 11 and was right across the road from the hotel we stayed in at the beginning of our trip. We actually ate in the Suk 11 restaurant a couple of times back in June and on one occasion Caroline went in to check the hostel out. It's a busy spot but was perfect for us. They had the very hard to find six bed dorm room which we only came across a couple of times on our travels.

We spent the last couple of days in Bangkok out at the Chatchuchak Market. It's a ridiculuously busy spot with a vast array of market stalls. There truly is something for everyone at this market. You name it, you'll find it there - if you look hard enough that is. We also went to the MBK Market but it was a truly awful place, a discount shopping mall selling knock-off gooods of all varieties. It was that awful I had to buy myself a pair of Beats by Dre headphones for €6. They're most likely of very dubious origin but what do you expect for that price?

Arriving late Sunday night at the Suvarnabhumi Airport we headed for the British Airways check-in desk. We were due to fly Bangkok - Heathrow - Dublin but things don't always go quite as planned. They had overbooked the flight by 15 and were looking for volunteers to fly by an alternative route. In the end we volunteered and flew home with Thai Airways via Zurich to Dublin. We were suitably reimbursed by the nice BA check-in chap for our troubles and as it turns out Thai Air are really nice to fly with. It was a super flight to Zurich - Paddy slept for about seven hours and I drank a fair bit of their Rum and Cola and watched Cool Hand Luke. We tooled around Zurich airport for a couple of hours and were back in Dublin last Monday morning only twenty minutes later than originally planned. Alls well that ends well.

I mentioned the quiet already. We walked thorugh the Phoenix Park on Monday afternoon and I just couldn't get over how quiet things were. The amount of space and lack of noise was a world apart from most of the last 2 and a half months on the road. You get used to hearing roosters in the morning, dogs fighting with eachother, the sound of the insects in the trees, the lizards on the walls of your room, the frog underneath the house, boat engines, thunder, motorbikes, loud music, drunk backpackers, the sound of your children snoring, the waves lapping on the shore - there's always something going on. When we walked back into the house on Monday it was all a bit of a dream. We were back. No two ways about it - we're back. Ireland is not Laos. It is not Cambodia. It is quiet.

It's really like we never left. After weeks of living from a bag, ordering food to eat, paying someone to do the laundry or transporting us places - it all stops. Everything reverts back to the way it was all too suddenly. On Tuesday morning the first thing I did was put fuel in the car and go to the supermarket. From Bangkok to the banal in two days. Its a difficult feeling to explain. I know that I'm glad to be home and that the rest of the family are also glad to be back - but its not easy to elucidate exactly what I'm feeling on my return.

It's all a bit too recent to get nostalgic about so maybe it would be better for me to give a quick overview of each country to remind myself what I think I might be missing

Thailand - the bookend to the start and end of our journey. Bangkok is wonderful and weird in equal measures. Chaing Mai was a really nice place and Chaing Rai was a very pleasant surprise. Really sorry we missed out on the Black Temple when we were there. Down south I was really impressed with Trat. It's a lovely little town with an amazing food market and some fine shophouses in the couple of streets named the Old City. Koh Kood Island was a really nice place to spend the penultimate stop on our journey. It was very much low-season there but I think I prefer it that way. It was a great place to chill out for a while.

Laos - From top to bottom its a wonderful country. We hit gold at our first Laos destination - Luang Nam Tha was a brilliant start to the Laos chapter. Really nice guesthouse (Zuela) , nice bunch of travellers, super scenery - it has it all. From there we went up to Phongsali - a bit of a kip in a wonderful setting. Spectacular scenery and views of China and Vietnam from the mountaintop. Heading down the Nam Ou River we stopped at Mouang Khoua and Nang Khiaw - both lovely spots, the former a bit livelier than the latter. Over to Luang Prabang - a World Heritage Site but a little too picture postcard perfect and chi-chi for Laos if you ask me. We stopped off in Vang Vieng and what a place. Limestone craziness and lagoon magic lies just outside the town. Vientiane was a non-event and looks like it will be for a while. The highlight of the trip, Konglor Cave, on the road to Thakek. Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping stuff. On from Thakek to Champasak on the banks of the Mekong. Nice place if a little too quiet. Its close to our second world heritage of the trip - Wat Phou - a nice little taster for what was to come later. We ended Laos with a few days on the 4000 Islands where another highlight was the massive Khone Falls - one of the better waterfalls on the trip - but the dolphins were a little underwhelming by the same token. .

Cambodia - First stop Kratie. Our first taste of Cambodian electrical blackouts but also the lovely Koh Trong island. Over eastward to Sen Monorom for some elephant fun before heading back west to Phnom Penh. The fascinating Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields will live long in the memory. Got templed out of it at our third world heritage site, Angkor Wat. I was so glad to see them but too much of a good thing is hard for anyone. Battambang in western Cambodia was a really amazing place - bamboo trains, circus schools, Joe's birthday - great memories. Floating villages in Kampong Chhnang - voyeurism in the extreme but you've got to do it. Kampot had cheap margaritas and a cool looking jail and market. Sihanoukville is a necessary evil if you want to get to the islands. Koh Rong was a great success - empty beaches and more cheap margaritas. Koh Kong was a nice way to end the time in Cambodge - it truly is the most stunning part of an otherwise mostly flat country.

Ireland - Damp. Cold. Back to work. No more shorts or flip-flops for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless we're home annd it feels good to be home. I look around and I see that I really need to start throwing out a lot of stuff. It was wonderful way to spend a few months outside of the daily ritual - a chance to see that you don't actually need most of the things that you accumulate over time. Its actually pretty easy to live from a bag, not working on the same principles of time that apply at home, eating out, going to bed at nine o'clock. It turns out that its pretty easy to break habits when you're faced with different situations. It also turns out that its very easy to slide back into those habits when you return home. That's life.

Thanks for having us back.

Posted by goldenmaverick 13:06 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

It feels Koh Kood to be here

sunny 30 °C

We've been three days here on Koh Kood. Geographically speaking its the farthest south of the islands in the Koh Chang archipelago. Apparently there were some ownership issues with Cambodia for a long spell so its only since they've been sorted that development has taken place. We'd initially not considered coming as it caters for rich Thais and the wider international jet-set. For example, there's one hotel at the other end of the island where it costs upwards of €2000 a night for a room. Needless to say we gave that place a miss. Most other accommodation is of the resort variety and as its low season the bulk of them are empty or under refurbishment. The place we're staying in was recommended by the guesthouse owner in Trat whom I mentioned in my last post. It's basic backpacker stuff and pretty reasonable by this islands standards. Cold showers are par for the course but that really isn't an issue in this heat. Once again we've been blessed with the weather. The temperature is hovering around the thirty degree mark for the last few days but the evenings usually bring some respite. The owner only opens the kitchen for evening meals but lays on free coffee and toast each morning - as a result we have to stop the boys from overdosing on the toast. The rooms are basic and built over a mangrove swamp so you get your fair share of the frog chorus at all hours of the day. Its quite amazing how you get used to the nocturnal sounds here in Asia, I expect that the silence will be deafening when we return home to Dublin.

The island itself is pretty big but any development has been on the west side only. As a result the entire interior is forested with just one paved road running through it. The local population is just over 2,000 but this is supplemented by another 4,000 Cambodian and Burmese workers that are employed in hospitality and construction. Most locals seem to rely on fishing and rubber plantations for their income, the tourism is a bit of a sideshow for them. Its strange that its so underdeveloped by Thai standards as its only an hour and a half by boat from the mainland. Its obviously the prices that are keeping most travellers away.

Last night we went for a couple of drinks in a local bar, the Tawan Eco Bar, run by a local guy who does nightly music sessions. We were intrigued by his sign that said 'Live music, Hot Beer, Bad service, Welcome'. The fact that the beer was cold came as a minor disappointment but things soon were on the up. He serenaded us with a couple of Bob Marley numbers before asking could I play percussion. As it happens in my earlier life that was a regular thing. Next thing you know the pair of us are jamming - Jong (the owner) on his guitar and me on the congas belting out 'Don't worry - 'bout a thing' by Bob Marley. What a buzzer! He then informed us that we were the first Irish visitors to his hostelry. Then some other customers came in and he had to stop playing to make them food.

Yesterday we hired some kayaks and paddled upstream through the mangroves to the Klong Chao waterfall. Crystal waters and beautiful falls that were perfect for swimming for the kids. Afterwards we paddled downstream to the beach where the kids enjoyed being pounded by the crashing waves. On the way we passed by what looked like a Korean group from one of the classier resorts who were capsizing in their kayaks everytime you looked at them. They were a bit of a maritime disaster and I was wincing as a couple of them headed towards the rocks. I could see someone from the resort frantically waving at them trying to send them in the right direction. Whilst it was unfortunate that the kids couldn't swim on the beach as it's monsoon season here, the waterfall is a more than adequate replacement. There's also a thankful absence of the hordes of sandflies that we encountered on Koh Rong but still enough of the little buggers to keep you on your guard.

We'll spend tomorrow replicating the waterfall/beach winning formula (assuming decent weather) and we'll catch the boat to Trat on Friday morning. From there we'll bus it to Bangkok on the penultimate leg of our three month odyssey. Home is looming large on the horizon.

Posted by goldenmaverick 05:34 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls beaches koh_kong kayaks Comments (1)

[Untitled Blog Entry]

I rather regret the negative tone of my last missal, I mean it's a bit rich really. I think travelling calls for great enthusiasm every step of the way and I ran out of steam for a while. Nothing like a Koh to revitalise . Koh Rong was fab. Limited electricity , no TVs, no motorbikes or even roads. Just beach and jungle, well a plastic bottle mountain too but lets keep with the positive. From there to Koh Kong city. At first glance a lot of Cambodian towns wouldn't delight. I swear the bus companies find the ugliest spot, about 3 Kms out of town, arrange a bit of rain, and voila! First impressions are generally poor. But I have found the market towns, the unassuming pass through places to have the most charm. Koh Kong was an example, lovely people and surrounded by the most beautiful, diverse scenery I saw in Cambodia. In a country not known for its conservation, Koh Kong seems to be an exception. Perhaps the fact that the Khmer Rouge were knocking about there as recently as the 90's kept everyone else away! Good job lads.
We went out on a high with a night in Rainbow Lodge. It is a divine place, on the river backed by jungle, amazing food, lovely couple in charge. A little beyond our means, Eco seems to be a by word for expensive, better for people travelling for shorter periods. But a heavenly place. Neil, the manager, asked had we heard the Gibbons this morning. I wouldn't be too well up on Gibbon sounds. Mind you Harry pointed out that living beside the zoo,monkey sounds are as familiar as the 37 bus to us.
So farewell to Cambodge, to it's western/ Khmer , dollar/ riel mash up. To its pyjama wearing female population. To its instant noodles. Fascinating country, be great to see it catch a break.

Sent from my iPhone

Posted by caroline 09:26 Comments (1)

Checking out of Cambodia

sunny 29 °C

We left Cambodia today with a heartfelt farewell. After one month in the place I've become extremely fond of it despite its many faults. We spent the last three days around Koh Kong, an area of extreme natural beauty and in hindsight the most geographically diverse of all the regions we visited. It has it all - mountains, sea and lots of other stuff to boot. Whilst it was only meant to be a stopover on the way in to Thailand we could have easily spent much longer in the area. On our first day in Koh Kong City I bumped into an Irish guy who has spent the last eleven years - on and off - in SE Asia and most of that in Cambodia. He was on a slow journey back to Phnom Penh to get himself a job. He recommended getting out to the countryside so we took his advice. We took a tuk-tuk out to the Tatai waterfall the following day and then headed on to the mangrove forests on the coast - spectacular stuff by any standards. On our last day in Cambodia we checked into Rainbow Lodge, an eco resort just outside Koh Kong. It's set along the Tatai River in the jungle and it was an inspired move. The kids spent the day tubing and kayaking in the river and then we took a sunset cruise down the river towards the sea. We took in the sunset with a Cambodia beer in hand. It was a great way to spend our last night. After the cruise we returned for a sumptuous buffet dinner in the company of a French family, an English couple, a Swiss lady and the management of the resort - an English guy and his Welsh girlfriend. They were quite delightful company, well not the French family as they just went to bed straight after dinner!

Today we crossed the border, a pretty simple affair as it turns out, and hopped on a minibus to Trat in Thailand. Once again we had little expectation about the place but it turns out to be quite a delightful place. We're staying in the Ban Jai Dee Guesthouse which is run by a French guy and his Thai wife. He's a walking information bureau on both Trat and the nearby islands. He's been living here for about thirty years and is a great ambassador for the place. Following his recommendation we've booked ourselves into a place on Koh Kood Island tomorrow. He arranged the accommodation and transport even though it means we'll be staying one less night in his place. A true gent.

Having been in Cambodia for a month it makes a very pleasant change to have the variety of food in Thailand. I don't mean western food either. The markets in Thailand are truly wonderful. This evening we had starters, mains and desserts for six people at the market stalls and it came to less than seven euro for the six of us. The range and quality of food available is amazing. Even Joe and Paddy found something to eat. I had the most amazing Pad Thai for about 70cent. The pace of the place is also a welcome respite from the onslaught of Cambodian life. There were no tuk-tuk drivers in our face when we got off the minibus, instead it was a quite orderly affair to get into Trat and find somewhere to stay. We lucked out with the guesthouse which is costing about 12 euro for two rooms and is in a beautiful wooden building down a quiet sidestreet in the town. The town also has the most beautiful old shophouses that I've come across on our travels. Reading the guidebooks you'd be led to believe that Trat has nothing to offer the traveller but as wit Koh Kong it is a bit of an undiscovered gem.

Tomorrow morning we take the boat to Koh Kood. Things were a bit up in the air as it's the Queen of Thailands birthday today and a public holiday tomorrow. This weekend and New Years are apparently the busiest times on the islands as the hordes of Thais descend on them for these two holidays. Here in Trat there's been fireworks and most of the bars are closed around the town. A guy on a nearby sidestreet has set up an outdoor cinema and is using an oldstyle projector to show a dubbed version of Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone. I passed by about half an hour ago and he's the only one watching. In fairness it was crap in English so it's no wonder really.

We've just one week left on our travels. I expected Thailand to be a bit of a letdown for our last week but now I'm really looking forward to our last few days here, its capacity to surprise and entertain is quite unbelievable. We'll look forward to our few days of island life and then a couple of days in Bangkok before our return home. Three months sounded like a long time three months ago but it truly has flown. It's been delightful and testing in equal measures - just like life I suppose.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:58 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

How did it all go? - Koh Rong

A week on a tropical island

sunny 32 °C

Well, where do I start?

After landing in Sihanoukville a week ago we tried to get out to Koh Rong Island that day. There was no availability in any accommodation so we ended up staying the night on the mainland. It turned out just fine, we booked into a place with a pool and the kids were happy out for the day. There's no shortage of restaurants in the town so it wasn't the worst day spent on out travels by any means. The next morning we headed for Koh Rong.

Koh Rong is about two hours away by passenger ferry. The weather had been a little unpredictable last week, there was the tail end of a monsoon that was felt much harder up by the Phillipines. Nevertheless, our boat set sail pretty much on time by Cambodian standards. To say the journey was rough is a bit of an understatement. Lots of people getting sick over the side of the boat. If you've ever seen 'Deadliest Catch' on the Discovery Channel you'll get a sense of what it was like on the boat. We were covered in sea brine after about two minutes on board and suffered two and a half hours of the same until we hit the island. The kids were great, it didn't knock a jot out of any of them. They have great sea legs as it turns out!

On arrival in Koh Rong I wasn't sure what to make of it. The first sight that greets you when you step off the boat is a shanty town. Rubbish strewn around the place and others burning their rubbish outside their 'house'. We had booked into a place called Monkey Island. Its really a place for the backpacker set but we stayed there for two nights. The staff were extremely friendly, particularly a guy called T who was really kind to the kids and wowed them with his nightly fire show. The lodgings were a little basic - wood and straw huts on the beachfront. The bar pumped out tunes from morning til evening and the place was filled with a crowd I now term the 'Vang Vieng set' - young backpackers who race around SE Asia ticking the boxes on their itinerary. After the second night we decided that we'd go a little more upmarket so we booked into a place called 'Paradise' a little further down the main beach. In retrospect it was an inspired decision. The accommodation, whilst still wood and straw, was infinitely better. The restaurant and bar were also a lot plusher - thats what you pay the extra cash for I guess. The owner, Rudi, a larger than life German ex-pat was great for advice about the island and the local Khmer staff were excellent. The only negative was the churlish young German manager for whom everything seemed to be a bit of a trial. He had the martyr syndrome and liked to extol his woes on a regular basis.

A short walk through the jungle brings you to an isolated beach - exactly the kind you have in mind when you think of a tropical island. It was a couple of kilometers long so it was only on the second day there that we realised there was an Italian run guesthouse called 'Pura Vida' there that served Italian espresso coffee. Its amazing what you can find on these desert islands these days. The only problem with the lovely beach was the abundance of sand-flies that fed on the kids and Caroline. They didn't seem to like the taste of me and Harry that much thankfully.

We celebrated Harrys birthday on the island, the nice staff in Paradise baked him a cake and all sang happy birthday. Bells, whistles etc. The next day Caroline, Harry and Joe went scuba-diving. It was our birthday present to the pair of them as there's not a lot of Smyths Toystores in these parts. They had a smashing time by all accounts - I'll try and get Harry to write about it here on the blog now that we're back in internet land. Another day we took a trek through the jungle to the other side of the island where we found the abandoned 'Broken Heart Guest House'. It was on a beach about 12km long that was heavily infested with sandflies. I can see why it closed down. What I couldn't understand was how the previous owner just left everything there, including lots of rubbish.

We're back in Sihanoukville as I write and guess what, it's my birthday today. We'll have a bite to eat tonight to celebrate it in a low-key style. No marquee out the back garden this year for me. Tomorrow we'll head towards Koh Kong and the Cambodian border with Thailand and in twelve days we're home. I hope we can squeeze in a few more adventures before then!

Posted by goldenmaverick 02:25 Archived in Cambodia Tagged island scuba koh_rong Comments (9)

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